SEOUL -- The South Korean battery giants powering many of the world's electric vehicles face a skills shortage that could drag on the global race towards zero-emissions transport.
The country's three major players, which command a third of the global EV battery market, told Reuters they were all grappling with a shortage of research and engineering specialists as demand for the technology grows.
LG Energy Solution, SK Innovation, and Samsung SDI all rank in the top-six global battery makers, and supply automakers including Tesla, Volkswagen Group and Ford among others.
Yet they are facing growing demands from big automakers and cannot find enough technicians with the training needed to keep advancing cutting-edge tech such as solid-state batteries.
"Although we are seeing such a growth in the industry, it appears that we are facing a shortage of talent," an official at LGES said. "It is crucial to recruit external talents as well as nurturing our own talent."
This was echoed by its two big domestic rivals, with SK describing the sector's expansion as "exponential."
Indeed, the global battery sector has doubled in size over the past five years and South Korea is short of almost 3,000 graduate degree-level positions in areas such as research and design, according to the most recent data from the Korea Battery Industry Association, from late 2020. LGES, SK and Samsung SDI currently have a total of about 19,000 employees.
The Korean crunch reflects a growing talent shortage across a wider global battery market that, according to IHS Markit forecasters, will triple in size to almost $90 billion by 2025.
The EU's European Battery Alliance planning group, for example, says "re-/up-skilling" is needed in the bloc because its battery industry needs 800,000 new workers by 2025.
If the global skills gap is not plugged, some industry experts say it could slow the pace of advances in batteries, which are being counted on to clean up road transport, one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
"Talent demand in the battery industry outweighs supply, and battery makers are anxious to ensure that they have got this small group of people who can work on this technology and will not be left behind in the fast-growing market," said Samsung Securities analyst Cho Hyun-ryul.